Friday, September 11, 2015

Hitman: Damnation review

    Hitman: Damnation is the second novel of the Hitman expanded universe novels chronicling the adventures of Agent 47 outside of his wildly successful video game series. The books switch authors from William C. Dietz to Raymond Benson, the latter being most famous for the brief period where he wrote the official James Bond pastiches/continuation novels. I like Raymond Benson's novels but he's a writer with several noticeable tics that sometimes can interfere with your enjoyment of a character.

    For those unfamiliar with the franchise, it follows the adventures of genetically-engineered assassin 47 as he tries to find meaning in his life fulfilling his purpose as being the world's best contract killer. There is no target too grandiose, too well-protected, or too powerful to take down. Usually, his employers are the International Contract Agency (ICA) and his mysterious handler Diana Burnwood. So, what did I think? It's pretty good, not quite as good as The Enemy Within but close. I do think some fans will have problems with its portrayal of 47, however.

    The premise of the novel is it's a few months before the events of Hitman: Absolution. Diana Burnwood has defected from the ICA and is actively working to bring them down. When her attempt to recruit Agent 47 goes disastrously wrong, he is left believing she's betrayed him unto death. The ICA proceeds to recruit Agent 47 again, the latter having left their service years ago, sending after an American evangelist with his own private army to see if he's up to hunting down Burnwood.

    The villain, Charlie Wilkens, is a transparent send-up of various American evangelical politicians combined into one. Honestly, he's actually more likable than the majority of these with more reasonable beliefs. It's just he's also engaging in terrorist activities with an organization called the New Model Army. I got a chuckle out of the fact Charlie is funding his campaign with the proceeds from a stand-in Chick-fil-a.

    Fans of 47 may have difficulty with the fact Benson gives 47 a temporary addiction to pain medication for the purpose of having him give it up. Likewise, Benson has 47 possess a "not-love interest" in Helena Mc Adams. Much like 47 in the movies, he's not sexually interested in her but the emotional support they provide. Given Helena Mc Adams is a former prostitute and drug-addict saved by Charlie Wilken's ministry, this is not a relationship which will end well and, no spoilers, doesn't.
    I liked the book's brief inclusion of Travis, Jade, and Diana as well as the tie-ins to Hitman: Absolution but think they could have been larger. It seems to me that Diana's burning the ICA would be a more interesting subplot than the assassination of Mike Huckabee/Mitt Romney's spiritual cousin but that's just me. I also think the plot suffers from the fact it requires a character to hire the world's best assassin to fake an assassination attempt on him without telling him it's supposed to be a fake. I liked Benson's treatment of Benjamen Travis, though, because he seemed like a competent professional versus his somewhat over-the-top portrayal in Absolution.

     Another issue I had with the book was Agent 47 kills a number of innocents throughout the book due to his inability to use his stealth skills to their full potential. This left me feeling a bit off as while I could attribute it to his pill addiction, the fact Agent 47 avoids collateral damage is one of the few redeeming qualities the character possesses. It becomes hard to root for him even against a man planning a fascist coup given we watch him throw a woman overboard to drown with nary a second thought. Then again, other fans may appreciate 47 being portrayed as every bit that amoral.

    In conclusion, Hitman: Damnation isn't a great book but it's an entertaining one. There's a lot of good character development, plot points, and a fun Bondian-esque story. Others may have issues with the fact 47 acts out of character in several ways or the rather off-kilter villain. I still enjoyed the book and recommend it to fans of the franchise.


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